Bank M&A

What Top Acquirers Know

Wayne, New Jersey-based Valley National
Bancorp’s expansion into Florida didn’t occur by chance.

The $33.8 billion asset bank boasts a long
history of acquisitions – 17 deals since 1990 – but shifted its focus away from
New Jersey and New York in 2014.

At that time, “the board looked from a strategic perspective and assessed the market conditions around us, and decided that we needed to align ourselves with a greater growth market,” says Valley National CEO Ira Robbins. There were natural ties with Florida: Customers migrated from Valley National’s home markets to the Southern state. So, it acquired $1.7 billion asset 1st United Bancorp, based in Boca Raton, that year, and $1.4 billion asset CNLBancshares, in Orlando, in 2015. In January 2018, it closed the acquisition of USAmeriBancorp, a $4.2 billion asset organization based in Clearwater. The USAmeriBancorp deal has been recognized as the top large bank deal in Bank Director’s 2020 RankingBanking study, which focuses on the best bank M&A deals across a range of categories.  

An examination of top serial acquirers featured in the RankingBanking study finds that success in M&A starts with a clear vision, along with the discipline to adhere to the strategy set by the board.

The string of acquisitions gave Valley
National scale in the Florida market. But the strategy has evolved once again:
Valley National closed its acquisition of $4.1 billion asset Oritani Financial
Corp., based in Washington Township, New Jersey, in December 2019.

Shifting away from Florida was a decision
driven largely by pricing in the market, explains Robbins. “Although the
Southeast is a high growth market, and there’s a lot of opportunity there, the
multiples of banks that are potentially viable for us are pretty high.” For
Valley National today, an organic growth strategic makes more sense in the

While a bank’s growth strategy should be preeminent, it’s in the execution that great acquirers set themselves apart.

First, these dealmakers look at M&A as an
opportunity to improve. The acquired asset may sport a more robust credit
process or superior technology, for example. The buyer can take advantage of
those strengths. “That’s one of the unspoken benefits of M&A; it really
requires you at that point in time to reassess how you’re connecting with your
customers, and how you’re connecting with your employees, and is it in the most
efficient and opportune manner,” says Robbins. “M&A – if you’re open-minded
to it – provides you the ability and the time to go back and assess

Gaining talented employees with relationships
in the acquired markets is often another benefit of M&A.

“To us, if we have a bank that’s performing well and doing well in its market, the people are a huge part of that success,” says Randall Chesler, CEO of $13.7 billion asset Glacier Bancorp. The Kalispell, Montana-based bank, renowned for acquiring “good banks in good markets with good people,” was recognized in the study for its M&A strategy and in the mid-sized deals category for its acquisition of $1 billion asset Inter-Mountain Bancorp, based in Bozeman, which closed in February 2018.

Keeping as many employees as possible eases
the transition for customers. It also establishes a reputation among prospective
sellers that as a buyer, the bank won’t gut the organization the seller has
worked so hard to build.

People are our most important asset,” says James Ryan III, CEO of $20.4 billion asset Old National Bancorp. The Evansville, Indiana-based bank has closed 10 deals since 2007, and was recognized in the large bank deals category for its acquisition of $2.1 billion asset Anchor Bancorp, based in St. Paul, Minnesota, which closed in November 2017.

With each acquisition, the bank assembles a
cultural integration team that includes legacy Old National and acquired staff.
Engagement is measured through surveys of all employees – not just new ones.
And Ryan, along with Chief Cultural Officer Kathy Schoettlin, spends a lot of
one-on-one time with employees.

But if someone’s going to lose their job, Ryan says the bank is upfront about it and assists them through the transition. That can include helping to update resumes or putting affected employees in touch with other potential employers.

Ryan believes this approach to integration bolsters the bank’s reputation as a buyer. “We believe that is a key for our success,” he says. “[Sellers] want to partner with Old National because they see the long-term value in that partnership.”

Banks aren’t bought – they’re sold. And selling a bank is rarely an easy choice, particularly for smaller institutions with deep ties to their communities. But selling to an acquirer with a strong reputation can make it easier for boards to pull the trigger on a deal.


Emily McCormick

Vice President of Editorial & Research

Emily McCormick is Vice President of Editorial & Research for Bank Director. Emily oversees research projects, from in-depth reports to Bank Director’s annual surveys on M&A, risk, compensation, governance and technology. She also manages content for the Bank Services Program. In addition to regularly speaking and moderating discussions at Bank Director’s in-person and virtual events, Emily regularly writes and edits for Bank Director magazine and She started her career in the circulation department at the Knoxville News-Sentinel, and graduated summa cum laude from The University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and International Business.